Runa Mackay obituary

Lesley Morrison
·2-min read

My friend Runa Mackay, who has died aged 98, spent much of her long medical career working in Israel, where she strove to improve the health of the Palestinian people.

She began her work in Israel in 1954 with a six-month locum job at the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society hospital in Nazareth. Rather than going back home at the end of her stint, she ended up staying in Israel for the next 30 years.

After 20 years in Palestinian hospitals, she helped to set up the Galilee Society of Health, Research and Service, and worked as a district medical officer for the Israeli health ministry, trying to improve conditions for Palestinians living in the villages surrounding Nazareth.

Born in Hull to Anna (nee Train) and her husband, Duncan Mackay, an ophthalmologist, Runa went to secondary school in Edinburgh, going on to graduate in medicine from Edinburgh University in 1944. For the next decade she did postgraduate medical training, latterly as a professorial medical registrar at the Manchester children’s hospital, before moving to Israel.

After retirement in 1985, Runa went back to Edinburgh University to take a degree in Arabic and Islamic studies, graduating in 1990. In her holidays she started working for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) including in refugee camps in Lebanon, especially Qasmiyeh camp, and in a small children’s hospital in Hebron.

Runa eventually became a trustee of MAP, regularly visiting Lebanon and Palestine, starting MAP in Scotland and running major fundraising events into her mid-90s.

In 2014 MAP gave Runa its lifetime achievement award and her life was commemorated in the Scottish parliament as one of the Scottish women whose contribution to the common good has been outstanding. Her book, Exile in Israel (2004), telling the story of her work, is a fascinating historical, political and cultural memoir.

Runa’s Christian faith was fundamental to everything she did; she was a committed member of the Iona Community, a regular participant in the Women in Black vigil in Princes Street, Edinburgh, a member of Medact and a campaigner against Trident. Humble, with an irresistible twinkle in her eye, she leaves an extraordinary legacy of commitment to justice and peace.

She is survived by her niece, Anna, and her nephews, John, Robert and Duncan.